On a warm afternoon in downtown Manhattan, Dave Gilboa is trying on glasses, and it isn’t going well. At one shop, none of the frames the saleswoman suggests look remotely good on him. “Every time I go into an optical shop, I think: When are these places going to go out of business? It’s a terrible shopping experience,” says Gilboa.
Gilboa and his shopping companion that day, Neil Blumenthal, aren’t disinterested observers: They are co-chief executives and co-founders of Warby Parker, a 17-month-old company that sells eyewear online. Customers test the startup’s retro-style glasses, which go for $95, including prescription lenses, through a mail-order, try-it-at-home program. The frames, and the business model, have attracted a devoted following among young, trendy professionals. “Sometimes if something’s cheap, it’s dumb,” says entrepreneur and designer Andy Spade. “Warby Parker has done it intelligently.” The startup’s success—Warby Parker has sold more than 50,000 pairs of glasses, says it’s profitable, and raised $1.5 million from investors in May—is inspiring competition from more established retailers.